Vermont Symphony Orchestra Brings Excitement


Courtesy of the Office of Communications

Soloists Pamela Frank on violin and Jaime Lardeo on viola performed Mozart, Britten, and more with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.


The first concert of the fall 2017 season involved such a large and skilled ensemble playing such important music that it can only be termed a triumph for the Middlebury community.

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra performed four works in the following order: Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Dance of the Furies from Orfeo ed Euridice, Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony Op. 4, a new composition from Paul Dedell called Breath with pictures from Porter C. Thayer arranged by Jesse Kreitzer, and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 with soloists Jaime Laredo on viola and Pamela Frank on violin. The performance, conducted by Jaime Laredo, lasted a little over two hours with an intermission between Breath and Mozart.

Before describing the music and the performances, which are certainly worth describing both for their execution and their positive effect on this community, I suggest to those who were unable to attend the show to listen to the pieces performed in order to better appreciate the musicianship and music.

For the Dance of the Furies, it is possible to find a version by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music which employs the harpsichord for accompaniment. I usually try to avoid the harpsichord, and they did not employ one at the concert, but this version, with its fast tempo and relentless intensity, would give any listener a similar impression as we received at the concert. It was a good piece with which to start the concert as it was liable to wake up anyone trying to sleep through it. While he originally left it out of the original opera and composed it a dozen years later to entertain the dance-hungry audiences of Paris, Gluck succeeded in creating this entertaining music. This dance is a short piece with only one purpose: to jolt the audience with a burst of violent energy.

The Simple Symphony had multiple moods, but they all seemed to run along the same general theme of the joys of childhood. We received a short speech from Mr. Laredo about the youth of the piece; Britten composed it when he was 20 using themes he had composed at the piano between the ages of 9 and 12. Even though it was composed nearly 70 years ago, I found it the most modern of the concert because of the second movement, subtitled “Playful Pizzicato”. Though pizzicato playing is common and there were several fine examples of such playing in both Breath and the Sinfonia, I cannot remember any pieces before this one which made do without the bow altogether for an entire movement. In looking for recordings, it appears that many smaller ensembles have recorded it at live concerts in two arrangements, one with about half as many instruments as the other. The concert used the larger arrangement, so I will recommend a recording by Filharmonický orchestr Iwasaki led by Chuhei Iwasaki. This performance has the same general air about it as the concert did and it keeps up the tempo in the second movement.

Probably the most important performance of the evening and ostensibly the reason for the concert in the first place was Paul Dedell’s Breath which accompanied the photos of Porter C. Thayer. The piece, however, was more than just a soundtrack.

As director Jesse Kreitzer explained, he worked with Mr. Dedell closely as he compiled the images for The Porter Thayer Collection and his most recent work Caregivers, sharing inspiration and acting as equal partners in a process that usually involves a composer doing his work after the images have been selected. This project is a collaboration between the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival allowing it to reach a far larger audience than it might otherwise.

What makes this work so great is that it both uses film and music in creative and engaging ways and while also bringing together people. I will have more to say about this project and plan to reference it in future articles, but have refrained from mentioning much about the performance itself, other than that it was worth seeing, in the hopes that people will try to attend one of the performances of it on the VSO’s “Made in Vermont” tour. Future performances can be found on the VSO website.

After a brief but well-earned intermission, the concert finished with Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante. I imagine, as it is a piece by Mozart, there is not much that can be said that has not already, and so I will only offer that it is a successful piece which uses the unique ensemble to great effect. There are not many double concerti from this era; the only similar pieces I can think of by the great composers are Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante and Beethoven’s Triple Concerto.

This form has the unusual strength of being able to show the skill of the soloists in relation to the orchestra and to one another. There are several instances in the piece, especially in the first movement, when Ms. Frank played a theme and was promptly echoed by Mr. Laredo on the viola. The effect was stunning.

The cadenza from the first movement was probably the highlight of the concert for me; the skilled playing combined with the effortless re-entry of the orchestra for the final tutti worked wonderfully. For reference, I suggest the Itzhak Perlman recording which can be found on YouTube.

This concert started off the year well and I look forward to the concerts this October, including those by the Danish and Heath Quartets, respectively, and a recital by violinist Soovin Kim.